The Monk Abba Dorotheos was a student of the Monk John the Prophet in the Palestinian monastery of Abba Serid in the VI Century.
In his youth he had zealously studied the sciences (i.e. the secular disciplines). "When I made study in the learning of things outward, – wrote the abba, – then at first I was so very obsessed with the study, that when I went to take up a book, it was as though a wild beast had grabbed hold of it. But when I pulled myself away, then God help me, i had been so immersed that I did not know what I ate, what I drank, whether I had slept, whether I was warm or not, – I was oblivious to all this while reading. None of my friends could even drag me away for meals, or even to talk with them when I was so absorbed in reading, even though I loved socialising and I loved my comrades. When they let us have philosophy... I went off there, and where I lived, I knew not what I would have to eat, since I did not want to waste time over the arrangements for food". So absorbed then was Abba Dorotheos in his book wisdom.
And yet it was with an even greater zeal that he devoted himself to monastic activity, when he withdrew into the wilderness. "When I arrived at the monastery, – reminisced the monk, – then said I to myself: as heated as my love for outward wisdom was, even moreso now ought it to be for virtue, and herein even to become all the more intense".
One of the first obediences of the Monk Dorotheos was to greet and to see to pilgrims arriving at the monastery. It gave him opportunity to converse with people from various different positions in life, bearing all sorts of burdens and tribulations, and contending against manifold temptations. With the means of a certain brother the Monk Dorotheos built a sick-house, in which also he served. The holy abba himself described his obedience: "At the time I had only just gotten up from a serious illness. And here there arrived travellers in the evening, – I spent the evening with them, and also the camel drivers there, – and I prepared for their needs; and often it chanced that when I had dozed off to sleep, other needs arose needing me, – and then it approached the hour of vigil". In order to fight against drowsiness, the Monk Dorotheos besought one of the brethren to wake him for services, and another to see that he did not doze off during the time of vigil. "And believe me, – said the holy abba, – I so esteemed them, as though literally my salvation depended upon them".
Over the course of 10 years the Monk Dorotheos was cell-attendant for the Monk John the Prophet. Even formerly he had revealed to him all his thoughts, and this new obedience he devotedly fulfilled the will of the elder, such that it caused him no tribulation. Distressed, that he was not fulfilling the command of the Saviour over this, that it is with many sorrows one mustneeds enter the Kingdom of Heaven, Abba Dorotheos revealed this thought to the elder. But the Monk John replied: "Sorrow not, and let it not distress thee, who art in obedience to the fathers, for this is proper a delight to the carefree and calm". The Monk Dorotheos considered it a matter of happiness for him to serve the great elder, but he was always ready to pass on this honour to others. Besides the fathers at the monastery of Abba Serid, the Monk Dorotheos visited and listened to the guidances of other great ascetics of his time, among which was also the Monk Abba Zosima.
After the death of the Monk John the Prophet, when Abba Barsanuphrios took upon himself complete silence, the Monk Dorotheos left the monastery of Abba Serid and founded another monastery, the monks of which he guided until his own death.
To the Monk Abba Dorotheos belong 21 Discourses, some several Letters, and 87 Questions with written down Replies by the Monk Barsanuphrios the Great and John the Prophet. In manuscript form are known also 30 Talks about Asceticism, and written Guidances of the Monk Abba Zosima. The works of Abba Dorotheos are imbued with a deep spiritual wisdom, distinguished by a clear and insightful style, but with a plain and comprehensible expression. The Discourses deal with the inner Christian life, gradually rising up in measure of growth to Christ. The saint resorted often to the advice of the great sainted-hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa. Obedience and humility, the combining of deep love for God with love for neighbour, are virtues without which spiritual life is impossible, – and this thought pervades all the Discourses of Abba Dorotheos.
In his writings the personal aspect of Abba Dorotheos is felt everywhere, and it is this which his disciple, the Monk Dositheos (Comm. 19 February), characterises thus: "Towards the brethren asceticising with him he responded with modesty, with humility, and was gracious without arrogance or audacity; he was good-natured and direct, he would engage in a dispute, – but herein prevailed the principle of respect, of well-wishing, and that which is sweeter than honey: of oneness of soul, the mother of all virtues".
The Disocurses of Abba Dorotheos are preliminary books to entering upon the path of spiritual action. The simple advice, how to proceed in this or that instance, together with a most subtle analysis of thoughts and stirrings of soul provide hoped-for guidance for anyone, who resolves on the path of experience to read the works of Abba Dorotheos. Monks that begin to read this book, will never part from it their whole life.
The works of Abba Dorotheos are to be found in every monastery library and are constantly reprinted. In Rus', his book of soul-beneficent instruction, together with the Replies of the Monks Barsanuphrios the Great and John the Prophet, was very extensive in the quantity of copies, right alongside "The Ladder of Divine Ascent" of the Monk John and the works of the Monk Ephrem the Syrian. And it is known that the Monk Kirill of Belozersk (+ 1427, Comm. 9 June), despite his many duties as hegumen, with his own hand transcribed the Discourses of Abba Dorotheos, as he did also the "Ladder of Divine Ascent" of the Monk John of the Ladder.
The Discourses of Abba Dorotheos pertain not only to monks: always this book should be read by anyone, aspiring to fulfill the commands of Christ.